Monday, March 16, 2020

Drinking French - David Lebovitz

I’m not self isolating as such, but I’m currently unemployed which amounts to much the same thing in that I’m spending a lot of time home alone. This is fairly high on my list of favourite things (just me and the books, various creative endeavours, a stack of Mae West films, the radio for company, and time - it’s all good). It helps too that in this city centre at least there’s little sign of shortages. Apparently there’s not much pasta or toilet roll around but not being in need of either of those things I’m not overly worried.

My own experience locally is that bigger supermarkets are struggling rather more than smaller shops to keep their shelves stocked, the difference between panic and calm might well be less than half a mile. Going out in the city is surprisingly calm and serene at the moment and gives a totally different picture to all those images of empty shelves and impossible to get home delivery spots.

Anyway. It looks like we’ll all be spending more time at home over the next couple of months, if for no other reason than that so many events are being cancelled. Which seems to me to be a great chance to get into the kitchen and actually engage with some of the cookbooks I so happily collect.

The first one up is the last one through the door - David Lebovitz’s ‘Drinking French’. I saw Anja Dunk talking about it on Instagram and wanted it badly enough to order it straight away. I’m not on a book buying ban, but with no money coming in I’ve really cut down on what I spend so getting this feels like an indulgence in itself. I used to buy books like this because they were specifically useful for work, without that excuse it feels like even more of an indulgence - which is actually quite nice.

It was also worth buying, it’s an absolute gem. I was principally interested in the apéritifs section, not selling them any longer hasn’t dented my passion for them. What Lebovitz does is introduce a range of apéritifs with a run down of their history and flavour profile, then follows that with a couple (or more) drinks recipes for them. It’s surprising how often books are not laid out like this. Byrrh and Suze are the bottles I’ve been curious about, and this book is encouraging me to make the effort to get them at some point.

It’s also reminded me of how much I like Pineau des Charentes (a mix of grape juice and brandy, there are also apple versions which are fabulous), has interested me in Picon, and RinQuinQuin. I already have a bottle of Dubonnet to play with and a goodish range of vermouths so there’s plenty I can be getting in with before buying anything new.

Apéritifs are only part of the story here though. There are also café drinks which covers coffee,
tisanes, has a really tempting recipe for Armagnac marshmallows, various takes in lemonade, and something to say about flavoured syrups. There’s a whole chapter on liqueurs and infusions which are tempting me yet again to try and make my own liquors (I have not had much luck with this, I don’t know why not) though maybe it’s wiser to buy the commercial versions. Again they come with some really tempting sounding cocktail recipes.

The actual cocktail chapter has a pleasing selection of classics, modern takes on classics, and so on. They’re things that you can make at home without to much effort or trouble, they sound good, and the list of ingredients isn’t daunting - all of which is exactly what I want in a cocktail recipe.

A chapter on apéro snacks is a nice finishing touch, along with instructions for making a range of bar syrups for home use (again, they mostly sound like things I’d use). And as a final bonus - it’s an American import about French drinking, so for once with an American book it’s probably actually easier to source some of these bottles in the U.K.*

*Amazon are fairly good for liqueurs they’re generally not the cheapest but this is balanced by their delivery which is probably the most convenient, Gerry’s in Soho (you can order online) The Whisky Exchange, and Master Of Malt are all excellent.


  1. I recently made a small bottle of Spiced Orange bitters, based on vodka infused with dried seville orange peel, cloves, coriander seed, black peppercorns and a few other ingredients. The recipe came from Jessica Seaton and Anna Colquhoun's Gather, Cook, Feast book. It needs infusing for about three weeks, and does add a lovely zing to a gin and (preferably dry) vermouth drink.

    1. That sounds amazing. Buying an extra bag of ice for cocktails has been part of my possible isolation prep. I don't drink very much inn the general way of things, but it's reassuring to know a decent martini is possible if I want one.

  2. I used to drink Byrrh in the mid 60s, thinking that I was so sophisticated.